We caught up with Forsters this month and interviewed their Head of Private Client, Patrick Harney, about life at the firm, being an award winning team and the personal reasons behind why he is involved in children's charity, Solving Kids' Cancer.
Patrick, you have been with Forsters as a Partner for over 12 years, the last two in the role of Head of Private Client. What have been the biggest challenges the firm has seen over this time and how has it had to adapt throughout the years to meet the needs of its clients and indeed its employees?
In such a highly competitive market, we are constantly challenged by the need to find and retain excellent private client lawyers to deliver to the high standards our clients expect. For our clients, the biggest adaptation the Firm has made is in relation to our IT systems. It’s vital that they are fit for purpose and totally secure in this 21st century environment so this is a continual investment for us.
For our employees, millennials are driving change in professional approaches in respect of agile working. Their needs are changing and so must we. We have had partner training sessions on how to understand the needs of our millennial workforce. As a partnership we hold away days to discuss strategy and our need to evolve and move with the times.
You are a prolific writer, speaker and lecturer on all US-UK tax matters. You have been recognised as a Legal 500 leading individual 2019 and listed in eprivateclient.com 50 most influential 2018. How has the private client arena changed throughout your career and how do you expect the sector to develop in 2019 and onwards?
The private client arena has gone from ‘sleepy to sexy’. By that I mean that the focus areas of successful private client firms have moved away from more traditional private client work such as wills and probate to the more ‘sexy’ family office, wealth structuring, lifetime tax planning, and family governance work. When done well, this work can be just as profitable as corporate, banking and M&A, but much more interesting, I would say!
I started as a lawyer in Ireland in 1997 and worked in Matheson before moving to London in 2003 where the trend was for large firms to shed their Private Client Groups – perhaps they had become sleepy! In the 2020s, with the proliferation of global private wealth I expect large firms in both the US and UK to get back into the private client sector, focusing on the ‘sexy’ end.
Today Forsters employs over 400 people and is the largest firm in Mayfair stating “a different place to work”. Describe the Firm’s culture in three words. What makes Forster unique in its offerings to lawyers and other professionals working within the legal sector?
Collegiate, conscientious and fun.
There is a real team feel and a sensible work life balance although we do work hard.
There is a strong CSR focus in the Firm; as well as supporting many charities each year, we appoint one main charity which we support for 5 years. Every partner contributes to our charitable endeavours which we are extremely proud of.
A huge congratulations on winning the Private Client Team of the Year (mid-sized firm) in the prestigious STEP Private Client awards last November. What factors would you attribute to your team’s success?
I would attribute our success to three main factors.
1. In May 2017 we saw the arrival of a team of 16 lawyers from Gowling WLG. Overnight this gave us additional size, resource, strength and exposure to the Asian and Middle Eastern markets.
2. Excellent lawyers.
3. Peer recognition – we are seen as a serious player in the market.
You are greatly involved in a children’s charity called Solving Kids' Cancer, recently completing a half marathon to raise much needed funds. Please tell us more about the charity; why you are involved and what the needs and aims are of the charity.
In December 2017 at just 20 months, my son Mikey was diagnosed with stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma. He underwent chemotherapy and a complex eight and a half hour surgery to remove his tumour. The charity was set up primarily to care and support families like ours and to fund research into treatment and ultimately, a cure.
This type of childhood cancer in extremely unpredictable and doesn’t behave in a uniform way which makes it very “tricky” to handle - a word our doctor used when explaining it to us and a word no parent wants to ever hear when it relates to the treatment of their young child.
Mikey is responding well to treatment and has now finished the treatment administered by the NHS. However, there is a high rate of relapse so we are working towards giving Mikey the opportunity to access clinical trials and treatment abroad that is not available in the UK.
In October last year I ran a half marathon and am also organising the London Irish Solicitors' Bar Association Ball on 5th April to raise much needed funds for the charity.
You can donate to Mikey’s journey here:
What has been the best piece of advice ever given to you?
I have genuinely taken this on board throughout my career and stick to it still today. A law firm partner told me this when I was a young lawyer: “Whatever you do, you have got to be able to sleep at night.” Even when under pressure and there could be ‘grey’ areas, it’s so important to keep your integrity and operate in an honest way that you can stand over.
What advice would you give to lawyers on their careers paths to partnership?
Take opportunities when you can, work hard and don’t underestimate the importance of relationship building.
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